By  on January 18, 2010

LONDON — Compagnie Financière Richemont outshone market expectations with a 2.4 percent spike in third-quarter sales to 1.59 billion euros, or $2.35 billion, from 1.55 billion euros, or $2.29, thanks to top-performing brands Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels and to strong demand in Asia.

All figures have been converted at average exchange rates for the three months to Dec. 31.

Richemont, which also owns brands including IWC, Dunhill and Chloé, said in a trading update Monday that sales rose 7 percent at constant exchange rates, stripping out the impact of currency fluctuations.

The firm said the sales uptick was “welcome in the context of a generally difficult economic environment,” although it acknowledged that last year’s comparative figures were weak.

But the overall news appears to be positive: The statement added that, in December, sales grew 12 percent at constant exchange rates.

Antoine Belge, analyst at HSBC in Paris, said he’d forecasted sales growth of 4 percent at constant rates, compared with Richemont’s 7 percent.

“Cartier’s recent launches, including the steel version of the Ballon Bleu watch and the Les Must collection, both contributed to that success,” he said.

In November, Cartier refreshed and relaunched Les Must, its entry-price collection that was born in the Seventies. The collection of jewelry, watches and small leather and silk accessories is currently stocked at Cartier stores worldwide. Prices range from about $75 for a goatskin business card holder to about $2,500 for a pink gold and pink tourmaline pendant.

Luca Solca of Bernstein Research in London said Richemont beat his sales projection of 1.55 billion euros, or $2.29 billion. Bernstein is bullish in general about the recovery prospects of jewelry this year. “We believe significant room remains for upside from continued restocking” by jewelry wholesalers, Solca said in his report on Richemont Monday.

By category, Richemont said sales at its jewelry brands rose 5 percent — fueled by top performers Cartier and Van Cleef — while those at the specialist watchmakers grew 3 percent thanks to increasing wholesale orders.

Sales of writing instruments fell 1 percent, while those of fashion and accessories were largely flat. Retail sales grew by 8 percent, while wholesale sales fell by 2 percent. The company noted the rate of wholesale decline has slowed considerably compared with the first six months.

Asia-Pacific was the top-performing region, with sales growth of 25 percent, thanks to Mainland China and Hong Kong, Richemont said. The region generated 31 percent of overall sales in the quarter.

Europe remains weak, with sales down 4 percent. Sales in the Americas fell 2 percent. At constant exchange rates, however, sales in the Americas rose 8 percent, thanks to improved consumer confidence and restocking by wholesalers, the company said. In Japan, sales fell 12 percent in the three months.

Richemont will publish 2009-2010 fiscal year results on May 27. They will be the first round of numbers to be released under the company’s interim chief executive officer Johann Rupert, who will replace Norbert Platt in April.

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